I was balanced on an eight-foot ladder with a mouth full of curtain hooks when I realised that my husband was cheating.
The individual pieces of the picture suddenly came together, making terrifying sense. I blinked hard, then stared at my knuckles, which were now white from gripping the ladder. But the image wouldn’t subside. The picture I saw was James with another woman.
I was hanging curtains in my client Rebecca’s bedroom, and the project was almost complete. This was great, as she’d been excited to give the room a whole new look after she’d recently come to the end of a long relationship.
‘I’m ready to move on. Grace, I want a totally fresh look,’ she’d told me when we met to discuss how I could help her. ‘Something luxurious, maybe a little sensual. I don’t plan on being single forever.’
I was still new in the design business and it was a huge deal for me not only to land a new client, but also one who had money to spend and some kind of clue what she wanted. My first few months had been a real struggle and I was starting to question my talents. Other business owners had stressed the importance of tapping my personal network to get things rolling, so James had spread the word around his office. Apparently, he had done a good job of promoting my abilities to Rebecca, his company’s marketing manager. She had been great to work for and seemed appreciative of my suggestions. The only slight issue was that in the last few weeks she had been anxious to speed things up and get the bedroom completed.
Eager to please, I had been beavering away and attempting to charm my suppliers into hurrying. After getting the curtains up, I planned to hit the shops for accessories, and then the room would be ready for whatever action she had in mind.
My work had been interrupted by a knock on the front door of Rebecca’s condo. I’d opened it to find a bubbly young woman, who presented me with a pair of pink stilettos.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘I was hoping Becca would be home. Can you let her know Kerry returned these?’
‘I think she’s at work,’ I said, taking the shoes. ‘I’m her bedroom designer.’
‘Ooh, you mean the love nest? Can I see it?’
‘Er, it’s not finished yet,’ I replied. ‘I expect she’d rather show you herself.’
Kerry shrugged. ‘Okay. I’ll catch up with her.’ She turned and was a few steps down the hall before she added, ‘And tell her I want to hear all about Vegas and this James guy. He sounds delish!’
My mind was still on the curtains. I’d shut the door and put the cute shoes down, before returning to the bedroom.
Climbing back up the ladder, I thought, No wonder Rebecca wants to hurry this room. She’s met some man in Las Vegas and needs her bedroom back. I was stretching to try to hook the edge of the curtain to the last ring on the pole when the dark feeling began to slither over me.
Did the ladder wobble? Had one of San Francisco’s famous earthquakes nudged it? Or was the lurch, the sway, the feeling of my stomach dropping to the new wool rug, due to something else? I checked the new tear-drop chandelier hanging above the bed. As a British transplant to the Bay Area, I had spent the first couple of years diving under our dining table at the slightest tremor. But by now I had learned that if the light fixtures weren’t swaying, the seismic jolt was all in my head. The glass drops of Rebecca’s chandelier stared back at me steadily, not even winking, let alone dancing.
I had the presence of mind not to swallow my curtain hooks as I took a huge gulp and slid down the ladder. I slumped onto the new and naked mattress as I thought about my husband’s recent conference trip to Las Vegas and how edgy he had been since. I remembered our paths crossing briefly in the kitchen, the first morning after his return.
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~~~ Quarter-finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest ~~~ Grace Palmer’s British friends all think she’s living the American Dream. But her design business is floundering and when she discovers her husband is cheating with her bes...